Wildlife that fool you

Happy April Fools! While we may dedicate one day a year to putting sugar in the saltshaker or plastic wrap over the toilet seat, in nature, pranks happen every day. Many animals change their appearance for survival, communication, and mating. To celebrate this mischievous day, here are four cool wildlife pranksters:

Gray treefrog

Two frogs
The gray tree frog changes colour. On the left its skin is gray, on the right, it’s green.

The gray treefrog is appropriately named Hyla versicolor in Latin. Versicolor means variable in colour. You can find this species in shades of brown, grey, or green.

The gray tree frog is like nature’s mood ring. It changes its skin colour within hours when there are changes in temperature, light, humidity, and other environmental cues.

During the daytime, their skin colour is often darker and becomes lighter later in the day. The gray tree frog’s ability to change colour allows them to camouflage into their surroundings perfectly. Watch where you step. They blend into the ground on trails and grass.

Shamrock orbweaver

Two spiders
Photo credit: Lynette Elliott (left) and Matt Hokanson (right).

Don’t let these two shamrock orbweaver (Araneus trifolium) fool you. Both spiders pictured above are in fact the same species. They are named for the shamrock-like pattern on its abdomen. The abdomen can change from beige, browny-green to orange and red. It takes a keen eye to spot these spiders in the fall because they are often orange and red to match the changing colour of leaves.


Unlike the gray tree frog and orbweaver, birds change colour at a much slower pace. For many bird species, they must physically shed their feathers and grow new ones; a process known as moulting.

Moulting lasts from weeks to months. Species that show a dramatic change in colour moult twice per year. In the spring, they acquire their breeding feathers, with males becoming brighter to attract a mate. In the fall, they transition into duller colours.

Long-tailed duck (male)

Male in the winter on the left and male in the summer on the right.

The male long-tailed duck can show dramatic differences in its color. In the winter, they are white and black, with a dark patch on the face. In the summer, the males are mostly black, with a white patch on the face, usually around its eye.

Scarlet tanager (male)

Breeding male. Photo credit by: Ryan Sanderson Non-breeding male. Photo credit: Dan Maxwell

The male scarlet tanager looks considerably different between breeding season and wintering time. During breeding, the male’s body is a brilliant red colour with black wings. But after this, his feather colouring changes to an olive-yellow, looking like the female scarlet tanager.

Who knew Mother Nature was such a prankster! Whether animals change their colour within a few hours or over several months, wildlife are pros at making us second guess their species.

Learn more about animals in the Credit River Watershed.

Do you have any of your own photos of these species? Share them with us on Twitter, Instagram and Facebook.

By CVC’s Kimberley Laird, Marketing and Communications and Christina Kovacs, Natural Heritage Management

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